Achieving major national influence through the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Black Power movement of the 1960s, proponents of black nationalism advocated economic self-sufficiency, race pride for African Americans, and black separatism. Reacting against white racial prejudice and critical of the gap between American democratic ideals and the reality of segregation and discrimination in America, in the 1960s black nationalists criticized the methods of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other organizations that sought to reform American society through nonviolent interracial activism. In his 1963 ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ King described himself as standing between the forces of complacency and the hatred and despair of the black nationalist" (King, 90).
Twentieth-century black nationalism was greatly influenced by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican immigrant to the United States who founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. In an essay titled ‘‘The Future as I See It,’’ Garvey insisted that the UNIA was ‘‘organized for the absolute purpose of bettering our condition, industrially, commercially, socially, religiously and politically.’’ Garvey and the UNIA also promoted black emigration to Africa as a program of ‘‘national independence, an independence so strong as to enable us to rout others if they attempt to interfere with us’’ (‘‘Speech by Marcus Garvey’’). One of the UNIA’s main efforts was to establish black-owned businesses, the best known being the Black Star Line, a firm which planned to transport people and goods to Africa. Although 35,000 investors flocked to buy five-dollar shares of Black Star Line stock, the shipping firm and the UNIA’s other commercial ventures failed. Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 and eventually deported, but he remained a heroic figure to many future black nationalists.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, Farrad Muhammad, a Detroit peddler, founded another significant organization of black nationalists, the NOI. The NOI sought to develop an intentionally separate and economically self-sufficient black community governed by a revised version of the Muslim faith. Muhammad’s claim that whites were ‘‘blue-eyed devils’’ seeking to oppress blacks made him a controversial figure. When Farrad Muhammad disappeared in 1934 after various factions in the NOI battled for dominance, his disciple Elijah Muhammad became the sect’s leader.
By the late 1950s NOI minister Malcolm X had emerged as the group’s most dynamic and popular spokesperson. Early on, Malcolm X’s oratory combined calls for racial independence with criticisms of mainstream civil rights leaders who cooperated with whites. In his November 1963 speech ‘‘Message to the Grass Roots,’’ Malcolm X defined land as ‘‘the basis of freedom, justice and equality,’’ and declared: ‘‘A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation. These Negroes aren’t asking for any nation—they’re trying to crawl back on the plantation.… If you’re afraid of black nationalism, you’re afraid of revolution. And if you love revolution, you love black nationalism’’ (Malcolm X, ‘‘Message to the Grass Roots,’’ 9–10).
Following the defeat of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964 and a trend of rising violence against civil rights workers and supporters, many activists became increasingly skeptical of the power of nonviolent resistance to influence the white-dominated power structure in America. Stokely Carmichael’s appointment in May 1966 as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) signaled an organizational shift toward exclusive black self determination in SNCC’s approach to civil rights. In June 1966 Carmichael began to use the slogan ‘‘Black Power’’ to promote racial self-respect and increased power for blacks in economic and political realms. He asserted that the ‘‘concern for black power addresses itself directly to … the necessity to reclaim our history and our identity from the cultural terrorism and depredation of self-justifying white guilt’’ (Carmichael, ‘‘Toward Black Liberation’’). Rather than publicly criticize black nationalists, King preferred to focus on the social forces and conditions that brought black nationalist philosophies such as ‘‘Black Power’’ to the fore. He called their departure from interracial cooperation in civil rights work ‘‘a response to the feeling that a real solution is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance and faintheartedness of those in power’’ (King, Where, 33).
King remained fundamentally opposed to black nationalists’ rejection of American society as irreparably unjust and to later black nationalists’ abandonment of nonviolence. Because of their view that ‘‘American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within,’’ King felt black nationalist movements rejected ‘‘the one thing that keeps the fire of revolutions burning: the ever-present flame of hope’’ (King, Where, 44; 46).
Carmichael, ‘‘Toward Black Liberation,’’ Massachusetts Review 7 (Autumn 1966): 639–651.
Carson, In Struggle, 1981.
Garvey, ‘‘The Future as I See It,’’ in Look for Me All Around You, ed. Louis J. Parascandola, 2005.
‘‘Speech by Marcus Garvey,’’ 7 September 1921, in The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. 4, ed. Hill, Tolbert, and Forczek,1985.
King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.
Lomax, When the Word Is Given, 1963.
Malcolm X, ‘‘Message to the Grass Roots,’’ in Malcolm X Speaks, ed. George Breitman, 1965.
Nell Irwin Painter, ‘‘Martin R. Delany: Elitism and Black Nationalism,’’ in Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, eds. Litwack and Meier, 1991.
King, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.
King, Press conference, 24 February 1965, MLKJP-GAMK Encyclopedia Brittanica
Freedom Rides, in U.S. history, a series of political protests against segregation by blacks and whites who rode buses together through the American South in 1961.
In 1946 the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in interstate bus travel. A year later the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation tested the ruling by staging the Journey of Reconciliation, on which an interracial group of activists rode together on a bus through the upper South, though fearful of journeying to the Deep South. Following this example and responding to the Supreme Court’s Boynton v. Virginia decision of 1960, which extended the earlier ruling to include bus terminals, restrooms, and other facilities associated with interstate travel, a group of seven African Americans and six whites left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, on a Freedom Ride in two buses bound for New Orleans. Convinced that segregationists in the South would violently protest this exercise of their constitutional right, the Freedom Riders hoped to provoke the federal government into enforcing the Boynton decision. When they stopped along the way, white riders used facilities designated for blacks and vice versa.
The Freedom Riders encountered violence in South Carolina, but in Alabama the reaction was much more severe. On May 14, upon stopping outside Anniston to change a slashed tire, one bus was firebombed and the Freedom Riders were beaten. Arriving in Birmingham, the second bus was similarly attacked and the passengers beaten. In both cases law enforcement was suspiciously late in responding, and there were suspicions of collusion in that late response. Although the original Riders were unable to find a bus line to carry them farther, a second group of 10, originating in Nashville and partly organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), renewed the effort. Undeterred by being arrested in Birmingham and transported back to Tennessee, the new Freedom Riders returned to Birmingham and, at the behest of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, secured a bus and protection from the State Highway Patrol as they traveled to Montgomery, where, when local police failed to protect them, they were again beaten.
Thereafter National Guard support was provided when 27 Freedom Riders continued on to Jackson, Miss., only to be arrested and jailed. On May 29 Kennedy ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce even stricter guidelines banning segregation in interstate travel. Still, Freedom Riders continued to travel by public transportation in the South until that dictate took effect in September.
"Freedom Rides (American civil rights movement)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 05 Aug. 2014
Afrocentrism, also called Africentrism, cultural and political movement whose mainly African American adherents regard themselves and all other blacks as syncretic Africans and believe that their worldview should positively reflect traditional African values. The terms Afrocentrism, Afrocology, and Afrocentricity were coined in the 1980s by the African American scholar and activist Molefi Asante.
Afrocentrism argues that for centuries Africans and other nonwhites have been dominated, through slavery and colonization, by Europeans, and that European culture is at best irrelevant—and at worst diametrically opposed—to efforts by non-Europeans to achieve self-determination. For this reason, according to Afrocentrism, people of African descent need to develop an appreciation of the achievements of traditional African civilizations; indeed, they need to articulate their own history and their own system of values.
Renewed attention to this culture, they argue, can benefit African Americans psychologically by reminding them that their own culture, which was long devalued by Americans of European descent, has a rich and ancient heritage. In addition to emphasizing the past, Afrocentrism encourages the preservation and elevation of contemporary African American culture as manifested in language, names, cuisine, music, dance, and clothing.
Afrocentrism was influenced by several earlier black nationalist movements, including Ethiopianism and Pan-Africanism. The latter became a major presence in the United States and elsewhere with the emergence of the Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, who promoted the idea of an African diaspora and called for a separate African state for black Americans. Garvey’s bitter enemy, W.E.B. Du Bois, who helped to found the integration-minded National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909, was also interested in Pan-Africanism and organized world conferences on the subject from 1919 to 1927. Other antecedents included the Negritude literary movement, launched in France in the 1930s by Francophone African intellectuals such as Léopold Senghor, and the Nation of Islam, whose leaders—including Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X—preached not only the need for a black homeland but also the cultural and genetic superiority of blacks.
Afrocentrism gained significant legitimacy in the United States from the 1960s as a result of the civil rights movement, the multicultural movement, and the immigration of large numbers of nonwhites. Its following increased dramatically during the 1980s, when many African Americans felt alienated from the “conservative revolution” of President Ronald Reagan but were simultaneously attracted by the conservatives’ call for a return to traditional values. The Afrocentrists’ complicated reaction to the conservative revival both reflected and reinforced conservative elements in Afrocentric thinking.
Criticism of Afrocentrism
The central claims of Afrocentrism were prominently set forth in a controversial book, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, 2 vol. (1987–91), by white historian Martin Bernal. Since that time, Afrocentrism has encountered significant opposition from mainstream scholars who charge it with historical inaccuracy, scholarly ineptitude, and racism. In her book Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (1996), the American classicist Mary Lefkowitz attempted to refute most of the assertions made by Bernal, Diop, and others.
Public disputes between Lefkowitz and Afrocentrist Tony Martin created strife between black and Jewish intellectuals and made Afrocentrism vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism. Critics further have argued that Afrocentrism’s search for exclusively African values sometimes comes perilously close to reproducing racial stereotypes. The movement’s followers maintain that Afrocentrism remains a valuable worldview and a spur to cultural and political activism by African Americans.
Malcolm X Biography
original name Malcolm Little , Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz
( 1925 – 1965 )
(born May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.—died February 21, 1965, New York, New York) African American leader and prominent figure in the Nation of Islam, who articulated concepts of racial pride and black nationalism in the early 1960s. After his assassination, the widespread distribution of his life story— The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)—made him an ideological hero, especially among black youth.
Early years and conversion
While an infant Malcolm moved with his family to Lansing, Mich. When Malcolm was six years old, his father, the Rev. Earl Little, a Baptist minister and former supporter of the early black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, died after being hit by a streetcar. The surviving family was so poor that Malcolm's mother, Louise Little, resorted to cooking dandelion greens from the street to feed her children. After she was committed to an insane asylum in 1939, Malcolm and his siblings were sent to foster homes or to live with family members.
Malcolm attended school in Lansing, Mich., but dropped out in the eighth grade when one of his teachers told him that he should become a carpenter instead of a lawyer. As a rebellious youngster Malcolm moved from the Michigan State Detention Home, a juvenile home in Mason, Mich., to the Roxbury section of Boston to live with an older half sister from his father's first marriage. There he became involved in petty criminal activities in his teenage years. Known as “Detroit Red” for the reddish tinge in his hair, he developed into a street hustler, drug dealer, and leader of a gang of thieves in Roxbury and Harlem (in New York City).
While in prison for robbery from 1946 to 1952, he underwent a conversion that eventually led him to join the Nation of Islam, an African American movement that combined elements of Islam with black nationalism. His decision to join the Nation also was influenced by discussions with his brother Reginald, who had become a member in Detroit and who was incarcerated with Malcolm in the Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts in 1948. Malcolm quit smoking and gambling and refused to eat pork in keeping with the Nation's dietary restrictions. In order to educate himself, he spent long hours reading books in the prison library, even memorizing a dictionary. He also sharpened his skills by participating in debate classes. Following Nation tradition, he replaced his surname, “Little,” with an “X,” a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.
- Lawrence A. Mamiya http://blkhistory.com/m/articles/view/Malcolm-X
Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She worked as a social worker, teacher and lecturer, and took part in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Walker won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, and is also an acclaimed poet and essayist.
Early Life and Education
Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton on February 9, 1944, the eighth and youngest child of Minnie Tallulah Grant and Willie Lee Walker, who were sharecroppers. The precocious spirit that distinguished Walker's personality during her early years vanished at the age of eight, when her brother scarred and blinded her right eye with a BB gun in a game of cowboys and Indians. Teased by her classmates and misunderstood by her family, Walker became a shy, reclusive youth. After the incident, Walker largely withdrew from the world around her. "For a long time, I thought I was very ugly and disfigured," she told John O'Brien in an interview that was published in Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives, Past and Present. "This made me shy and timid, and I often reacted to insults and slights that were not intended." She found solace in reading and writing poetry.
Much of her embarrassment dwindled after a doctor removed the scar tissue six years later. Although Walker eventually became high school prom queen and class valedictorian, she continued to feel like an outsider, nurturing a passion for reading and writing poetry in solitude.
Living in the racially divided South, Walker attended segregated schools. She graduated from her high school as the valedictorian of her class. In 1961 Walker left Eatonton for Spelman College, a prominent school for black women in Atlanta, on a state scholarship. During the two years she attended Spelman she became active in the civil rights movement. After transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Walker continued her studies as well as her involvement in civil rights. In 1962 she was invited to the home of Martin Luther King Jr. in recognition of her attendance at the Youth World Peace Festival in Finland. Walker also registered black voters in Liberty County, Georgia, and later worked for the New York City Department of Welfare.
Two years after receiving her B.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence in 1965, Walker married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a white civil rights attorney. They lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where Walker worked as the black history consultant for a Head Start program. She also served as the writer-in-residence for Jackson State College (later Jackson State University) and Tougaloo College. She completed her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1969, the same year that her daughter, Rebecca Grant, was born. When her marriage to Leventhal ended in 1977, Walker moved to northern California, where she lives and writes today.
Whitted, Qiana. "Alice Walker (b. 1944)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 12 August 2014. Web. 03 September 2014.